Updated Dec 16, 2019

iPad vs. iPad mini: Which Do You Want & What About iPad Air?

Cam Secore

After two weeks of testing, I determined that iPad mini is the best due to its superior screen quality and speed. iPad (7th generation) is a great option if you want to save money or use Apple’s Smart Keyboard.

I’ll explain how I reached my conclusion by comparing two tablets (iPad vs. iPad mini) while evaluating five categories: screen quality, screen size, performance, hardware, and accessories.

Best For You

ipad mini

iPad mini

10

Get iPad mini if you want the ultimate consumption device for travel. It has a display that looks and feels incredible, a top-of-the-line processor that can handle any task, and it’s pocketable. If you want the same specs in a larger form, iPad Air is $100 more and has the Smart Connector.

ipad

iPad (7th Gen)

7

Get iPad (7th Gen) if you want a bigger screen or want to use Apple's Smart Keyboard. It's great for kids to create documents for school. Tech nerds will hate the non-laminated display, lack of True Tone, and the slower processor, but non-tech savvy people won’t notice any of these.

iPad mini

  • Screen
    It has 326 ppi (best of any iPad), True Tone, less reflectivity, and the glass is laminated to the screen.
  • Size
    The screen is 7.9”. It weighs 0.66 pounds and fits in some pockets. It’s comfortable to hold w/ one hand and type with the other.
  • Performance
    It uses the A12 Chip (same as iPhone XS). It’s capable of hardcore gaming and video editing.
  • Hardware
    It’s $399 for 64GB or $549 for 256GB. The front camera is 1080p.
  • Accessories
    It works with Apple Pencil but not Apple Smart Keyboard. It works with any Bluetooth keyboard.

iPad (7th Gen)

  • Screen
    It has 264 ppi, but features an annoying gap between the glass and screen and no True Tone.
  • Size
    The screen is 10.2”. It weighs 1.07 pounds. It requires two hands, but it’s nicer to type documents on.
  • Performance
    It uses the A10 Chip. You won’t notice the difference with music, video, web browsing, reading, writing or social media.
  • Hardware
    It’s $329 for 32GB or $429 for 128GB. The front camera is 720p and terrible.
  • Accessories
    It works with Apple Pencil and Apple’s Smart Keyboard. It works with any Bluetooth keyboard.

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I’ve been obsessed with gadgets since I was eight years old. I buy each device reviewed with MY money and don’t have insider access. I’m just like you, the everyman.

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Things In Common

  • They run on iPadOS 13, which is essentially the same operating system that iPhone uses with added features that take advantage of the extra screen space.
  • If you’re used to a desktop workflow, using only an iPad as your main computing device is an impossible transition. iPads have the power to handle your tasks, but every action that you perform on a laptop takes extra steps on an iPad. If you want to learn more about why I feel this way, I broke it down in my iPad vs. MacBook comparison.
  • You’ll get about ten hours of battery runtime on a charge.
  • The back cameras are identical 8-megapixels with an ƒ/2.4 aperture.
  • You can add a cellular modem to iPad for an extra $130. Then, you’ll have to pay at least $15/month to a service provider for cellular data.

iPad mini

10

Screen QualityA+

  • The screen has a pixel density of 326 ppi, which is the highest of any iPad in the lineup. People tend to overrate the value of pixel density because the human eye only has a limited capacity, but iPad mini’s display looks incredible and sharper to my eyes.
  • The biggest difference between iPad and iPad mini is the screen, but the laminated display plays a bigger role than the size or pixel density.
  • iPad mini’s laminated display has the glass glued to the LCD, which gives the feeling that you’re touching the pixels. It feels like one piece. What does this mean practically?
    • iPad mini mimics your phone’s touch screen experience. Apple hasn’t sold an iPhone in nine years without a laminated display, and most smartphones on the market have laminated displays.
    • Using Apple Pencil to draw or annotate is a lot of fun. It feels more precise when you’re drawing directly on the pixels.
  • iPad mini has a True Tone display that changes the screen’s color temperature based on the surrounding light. It’s more noticeable when you’re outside because the white colors get warmer. True Tone tries to make the screen look like white paper at all times. True Tone isn’t a game-changer, but it makes reading easier on your eyes.
  • iPad mini has an antireflective coating. I thought this was just marketing language, but there’s a noticeable difference when you’re outside or in a room with bright lights.
  • iPad mini is a no-brainer if you plan to use your iPad outdoors often because of the True Tone technology and antireflective coating.

Screen SizeA+

  • It has a 7.9” display with thinner bezels than iPad.
  • It weighs 0.66 pounds.
  • I’ve owned and tested many iPad generations and styles. iPad mini continues to be my favorite size.
    • It doesn’t fit in jean pockets, but it should fit in loose shorts, sweatpants, and coat pockets.
    • I can hold it with one hand while typing with my index and middle finger on the other hand.
    • If I hold it with two hands, I can reach all sides of the on-screen keyboard with my thumbs.
    • It’s thin and half the weight of the regular-sized iPad. It feels more stable in my hands.
  • Some argue that iPad mini’s size doesn’t differ enough from iPhone’s, but I find that iPad mini’s extra screen real estate makes watching videos and playing games more enjoyable.
  • It’s an ideal size for reading books and internet content.

PerformanceA+

  • iPad mini uses Apple’s A12 processing chip. It’s the same chip iPhone XS uses. I don’t recommend editing video or photos on a 7.9” screen, but you have enough power to do it. The A12 chip has close to the same amount of power as the entry-level MacBook Pro, so it’s overkill for most daily tablet tasks. The good news is that your processor will be powerful enough to be relevant for the next five years.
  • According to GeekBench, iPad mini (A12) is 35% faster than iPad 7th generation (A10) for single-core tasks. iPad mini is twice as fast for multi-core tasks (things like gaming).
  • According to GeekBench, the graphics performance is 60% better in A12 compared to A10. You get smoother gaming, video editing, and photo editing.
  • Specs are great, but you won’t notice a difference in your daily use because all apps open at the same speed. Videos, music, social media, and internet browsing function the same on A10 as they do with A12.

HardwareA

  • The default storage option is 64GB. You can upgrade to 256GB for $150 extra.
  • The front-facing camera takes 7-megapixel photos and is capable of 1080p video. If you plan to do lots of FaceTime or Skype calls, iPad mini looks substantially better and is what you want.
  • When comparing the speakers, I couldn’t hear a difference.

AccessoriesC

  • It works with the first-generation Apple Pencil and any type of Bluetooth keyboard.
  • It doesn’t have the Smart Connector, so it won’t work with Apple’s Smart Keyboard.
  • You can buy the iPad mini Smart Cover for $39. It works as a cover and as a stand when you fold it.

iPad (7th Gen)

7

Screen QualityC

  • The 7th generation iPad doesn’t have a laminated display, which means that there’s an air gap between the glass and the LCD. I didn’t realize Apple still sold devices with an air gap because the iPod Touch was the last device that I used without a laminated display, and that was ten years ago.
  • Will the average consumer notice the gap? I’m not sure. My parents had no idea, but a couple of friends spotted the difference right away and said the screen felt “fake.” As a gadget enthusiast, the air gap was the first thing that I notice and a deal-breaker for me.
    • iPad Air 2 and iPhone 4 were the first devices to get a laminated display and most modern smartphones have a laminated display. If you’re a big tech lover, I don’t think you’ll enjoy the transition back.
    • The screen doesn’t feel like a solid piece of material. You can feel the screen move slightly as you push down. It feels like dated technology.
    • Drawing with Apple Pencil feels more sluggish and less precise.
    • Keep in mind that you won’t find a more spoiled tech consumer than I am. I rarely hold onto a device that’s more than two years old. I recommend going to an Apple Store to test the difference for yourself.
  • The screen is more reflective, but under normal indoor lighting conditions, you can see everything perfectly.
  • iPad’s display doesn’t adjust the colors automatically. It’s stays static. True Tone technology has been a staple of Apple products since 2017, so it’s strange to use a device without it when you’re used to it. True Tone is nice to have, but if you’re coming from outside the Apple ecosystem, it shouldn’t weigh into your decision.

Screen SizeB

  • It has a 10.2” display, which is an upgrade from the previous generation’s 9.7”.
  • It weighs 1.07 pounds, which doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a huge difference compared to iPad mini. I felt like I needed to keep two hands on the device at all times to have a proper grip.
  • While I prefer the iPad mini’s size, iPad’s extra space will be helpful for students who need to write documents and make PowerPoint Presentations.
  • The extra screen space is nice for video and photo editing, but iPad doesn’t have an ideal amount of power for that.
  • If you’re convinced you want the bigger screen, but you want a laminated screen, the latest iPad Air is the answer. iPad Air has a 10.5” display with the same internals and screen quality as iPad mini for $499.

PerformanceB+

  • iPad uses Apple’s A10 processing chip. It’s the same chip that came in iPhone 7.
  • It’s plenty of power for tasks that a typical tablet user will perform. In fact, for web browsing, music listening, video watching, document creating, emailing, and moving between windows, your experience is identical to the A12 chip.
  • You’ll notice a difference with video and photo editing or extensive gaming that requires multiple cores.

HardwareD

  • The default storage option is 64GB. You can upgrade to 128GB for $100 more.
  • The front-facing camera takes 1.2-megapixel photos and it’s only capable of 720p video. The details on your face get washed away and the video quality looks terrible when there are two types of different lighting because there’s no HDR. Your grandma won’t care when you’re on a FaceTime or Skype call, but it’d be a bad look during a business meeting.
  • It uses a first-generation Touch ID sensor, unlike iPad mini that uses a second-generation sensor. When testing side-by-side, I didn’t notice a difference in speed or detection capabilities.
  • The speakers sound the same as iPad mini’s.

AccessoriesB

  • It works with the first-generation Apple Pencil, but as I wrote above, due to the non-laminated screen, the implementation isn’t perfect.
  • It has the Smart Connector for connecting Apple’s Smart Keyboard. I can’t figure out why anyone would buy the Smart Keyboard because people who buy an iPad are probably budget conscious in the first place. The Smart Keyboard costs $159, while the iPad is $329.
  • Luckily, it’s compatible with any Bluetooth keyboard and there are good options in the $20 range.
  • You can buy the iPad Smart Cover for $49. It works as a cover and as a stand when you fold it.
 
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